The Scandinavian Peninsula’s seafaring cities blend the best of their maritime pasts and modern presents with world-class museums designed by major architects, centuries-old castles shielding crown jewels, and villages dating back to the Viking era. But the cities of Scandinavia are more than just a time capsule for history buffs. With a coastline of fjords, countryside of glaciers, and natural shows from the northern lights, a trip to the Scandinavian Peninsula is full of adventure-packed ways to spend your days—no matter the season.
Set off on any of our Scandinavia tours through Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and you’re guaranteed jaw-dropping scenery at every turn, plus a few unexpected surprises along the way. From cutting-edge capitals to secluded towns and traditional Sámi tents north of the Arctic Circle, here are five of the best places to visit in Scandinavia while traveling on our tours.
Sweden’s capital city is made up of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, which has rightfully earned it the nickname “Venice of the North.” Our Scandinavia: The Capitals & the Fjords tour includes immersive, guided visits of landmarks like the medieval Old Town, or Gamla Stan, which dates back to the 13th century, plus plenty of time in the afternoon to sample local cuisine that Scandinavian cities like Stockholm do best (you won’t have to look too far to find smörgås—open-faced sandwiches that are staples of Scandinavian dining). Here are a few other highlights to hit during your free time on our tour:
- Dance your way through the ABBA Museum. Who doesn’t love the hit-making, trend-setting group of musical icons that is ABBA? Lucky for anyone in Stockholm, ABBA The Museum is just like the group: unlike any other. You can see the disco-fabulous outfits, wear them virtually, and get your photo taken “in” them. Plus, sing on stage with all four of the group members’ holograms. This museum isn’t just about looking at memorabilia (you can do that too) it’s about experiencing what it’s like to be a member of ABBA. If this seems like too much to do in one day, you can get a two-day pass and go back for more dancing, sequins, and gold-record fun.
- Stroll through Stortorget. On the island of Gamla Stan, the main square of Stortorget is also the oldest in Stockholm (you may recognize its vibrant facades, which are some of the most photographed in town). Walking through this part of the city—one of the best-preserved medieval centers in Europe—is among the top ways to explore Stockholm without spending a penny.
- Hop aboard the Tunnelbana. When talking about hidden gems of Stockholm, the Stockholm metro, which doubles as an art gallery, earns top marks. “It’s a great way to travel, it’s very easy to use, and some of the 110 stations are adorned with beautiful art installations,” said Swedish Tour Director Per. Be sure to check out the cave-like architecture of Kungsträdgården or the Matisse-inspired blue leaf murals climbing the sides of the T-Centralen station.
- Visit the Vasa Museum. Viking history is one of the things to love about Scandinavian cities, and the Vasa Museum is the perfect place to dig in. “It’s very well-preserved despite being underwater for more than 350 years,” said Per of the world’s only preserved 17th-century ship. It sailed for only 25 minutes before it sank and wasn’t salvaged until 1961. It took a little more than a decade to restore, but it’s now one of the most-visited museums in Scandinavia.
Pastel homes hugging the hillside, narrow cobblestoned streets crisscrossing behind the harbor, colorful wooden buildings lining the water—there’s a reason why Bergen and its UNESCO-listed Bryggen wharf are a unique experience you can only have in Northern Europe. If you want to visit one of the best cities in Scandinavia, Bergen definitely tops the list considering that there are highlights at every turn.
Even outside the summer season, places in Scandinavia like Bryggen—the old Hanseatic area of Bergen filled with restaurants, bars, and stores—are buzzing, which gives you a reason to visit Scandinavia in the winter. “There seemed to be a lot of people out going places, and I would say most people were probably local, or from close countries, but you could tell they were vacationing,” said traveler Caroline. “Everybody was just looking to have a good time.”
- Ride the funicular up Mount Fløyen. One of the benefits of visiting cities in Scandinavia is that, even in the center of town, you’ll be surrounded by nature. The second-highest of Bergen’s seven mountains, Fløyen is an easy option to continue exploring in your free time after a guided visit on our new Fjords of Norway: Bergen, Geirangerfjord & Ålesund tour. Take the five-minute funicular ride to the top and you’ll have a beautiful view of Bergen and the surrounding fjords. If you’re traveling to Scandinavia in summer and wondering how to take advantage of the summer solstice, the Fløibanen funicular to Mount Fløyen runs until 11pm, offering a spectacular view of the city late into the bright night.
- Uncover Viking history at Fantoft Stave Church. A replica of the original thousand-year-old church that burned down in 1992, the new Fantoft Stave Church was built in just five years and looks nearly identical to the original one—a rarity you won’t find in any of the other cities in Scandinavia. The history is one draw, but the dreamy scenery really pulls you in. “As I walked through the woods to the Fantoft Stave Church, I just knew a gnome or fairy was going to pop out,” said traveler Cheryl after her time on our Highlights of Northern Europe: Amsterdam to Stockholm tour.
- Shop for a Lusekofte sweater. While exploring Bryggen’s historic alleys, pick up a souvenir that you’ll only find in Norway—a Lusekofte wool sweater knitted with traditional Nordic patterns. If you want to visit Bergen in the winter after reading our Norway Travel Guide and need an extra layer once you arrive, this one will go to good use.
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Of the major cities of Scandinavia, Oslo has been called the “newest capital of Nordic cool.” While the harbor promenade alone is packed with design-savvy attractions like the city’s new National Museum—home to everything from ancient Greek sculptures to work by Sámi artists—and the Oslo Opera House, whose roof is designed to be walked on, history plays a large role here, too.
First settled in the mid-10th century, the Norwegian capital is considered one of the best Nordic cities to visit for its museums (the Nobel Peace Center, housed in a former railway station, is one of the most-visited in the country), Viking landmarks, and nature like the Oslo Fjord’s archipelago, home to floating saunas and stunning sandy beaches. Plus, days seem nearly endless in summer, when Scandinavian cities like this one have more than 19 hours of sunlight, giving a whole new meaning to a midnight stroll or late-night picnic.
- See the modern city. Every year, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place in the Oslo Opera House, which sits smack-dab in the center of town. While wandering around, explore the area behind the City Hall Town Square, which is lined with commuter boats, restaurants, and bars.
- Sauna at Langkaia. Stroll along the pier, called Langkaia, to the wooden pyramids on the right of the dock that comprise the nomadic art project SALT. The mini wooden village (it’s even charming in wintertime when there are barrel fire pits) is home to a mix of art, food, drinks, and sauna concepts, and you may even catch a concert or stand-up performance while you’re there.
- Vigeland Park. On our new Northern Lights of Norway: Oslo to Tromsø tour, you’ll pass by nearly 200 bronze, granite, and cast-iron sculptures by artist Gustav Vigeland at the namesake Vigeland Park, an open-air exhibition that’s the largest greenspace in town. “It’s about a half-mile walk to explore it all, but well worth it,” said Tour Director Per, since the sculptor is one of the most celebrated in Norway and the park features many of his works.
- Hunt for the northern lights. Oslo is a great gateway to Narvik, the “Land of the Northern Lights,” which sits on a peninsula between two fjords. After meeting with a Sámi family and learning about the lifestyle in the Arctic north, set off to find the aurora borealis on Norway’s northernmost passenger railway into the mountains up to the Swedish border.
Norwegian Fjord Country
Norway stands out from other places in Scandinavia because of its fjords, U-shaped valleys shaped by glaciers that act as the country’s main roads. Norway has more than 1,000 fjords—the ancient Viking term for “crossing point”—and an entire day of our Scandinavia: The Capitals & the Fjords tour is dedicated to visiting fjord country.
The Norwegian village of Flåm may not have been on your radar when narrowing down places in Scandinavia, but once you ride along the scenic train on one of the world’s steepest tracks through Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord, you won’t forget this tiny town (population 350) any time soon. The scenic journey on board the Flåm Railway is just half the fun while exploring the cities of Scandinavia and the picturesque fjords. On our Fjords of Norway: Bergen, Geirangerfjord & Ålesund tour, you’ll continue the thrill-ride on a fjord safari cruise past seals and porpoises eyeing scenery so unreal, it inspired Disney’s hit film Frozen.
- Set sail on Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord. Cruise through two of the most beautiful and famous fjords: Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord. Fun fact: Nærøyfjord is so beautiful that animators for the movie Frozen used it as a source of inspiration. One of the narrowest fjords in Norway (it’s just 820 feet wide at its narrowest point), Nærøyfjord’s steep-sided, crystalline rock walls are what makes this one of the most impressive fjords in the country.
- Soak up the views. Explore on two wheels by cycling along the popular Rallarvegen route to Flåm, or head up to the Stegastein viewpoint to the platform jutting out from the mountain nearly 2,100 feet above the Aurlandsfjord for unbeatable panoramic shots over the water.
- Go chasing waterfalls. Since you’re visiting Sognefjord, one of the five most beautiful fjords in Norway (as well as one of the deepest), it’s no surprise the waterfalls are pretty impressive here. One worth seeking out? Vettisfossen, the country’s tallest, free-falling waterfall.
If there’s one word you’ll quickly learn here, it’s hygge, a concept that defines the country’s culture and Danish art of coziness. Part of everyday life here, you’ll find plenty of ways to soak up this side of the culture in Copenhagen on a tour like Highlights of Scandinavia: Sweden, Norway & Denmark, which ends in a two-night stay in the Danish capital, often ranked one of the best cities to visit in Scandinavia. “I lived in Copenhagen for eight years, and I’m always really happy to come back here,” said Per of the Danish capital. “It can be compared to Amsterdam, as there are a lot of canals and it’s nice to see the city from that view.”
You may already be familiar with some of the city’s highlights, like the bronze sculpture of The Little Mermaid watching over the harbor, but you’ll experience plenty of other lesser-known secrets and ways to explore the Scandinavian city with your guide on a tour of Copenhagen.
- Discover Tivoli Gardens. Did you know that this popular Copenhagen attraction is the second-oldest amusement park in the world and dates back to 1843? “It’s not only an amusement park, it’s also home to nearly 30 restaurants and bars, and you have a very beautiful flower garden here,” Per said. Come in the winter to see bright Christmas displays or in the fall for the festive Halloween decorations.
- Sample local specialties. Whether you’re eating vegan in Northern Europe or seeking out fine-dining at Michelin-starred restaurants, the food culture here is a main attraction in its own right. “The open-faced sandwiches, called smørrebrød, are the national food of Denmark and that’s what the locals are eating for lunch,” said Per. Another Danish culinary staple: pølser, a hot dog served with bread, mustard, ketchup, roasted onion, and, if you want to get fancy, wrapped in bacon. Head to the beautifully preserved Nyhavn district and pick one up while admiring the colorful wharfside homes and shops along the canal.
- Tour the city’s famous markets. Whether you’re looking for vegetables, seafood, and other local delicacies, or searching out vintage items—Copenhagen has a market for you. Our favorite place to go for local produce is Torvehallerne at Nørreport Station. For stylish second-hand clothes, don’t miss Vera’s Market under Buen, which is open every day, rain or shine. And if you happen to be in the city during the holidays, Jul på Bakken, or Christmas on the Hill, is a must. Complete with performances, traditional Christmas lunches, and plenty of stalls to buy your holiday gifts from, this market will not disappoint.
- Bike around the city. Copenhagen’s infrastructure is built around bikes, among the many reasons it’s considered one of the best sustainable tourism destinations. (There are actually more bikes than people in Copenhagen!) Cycle past some of the landmarks like the 17th-century Rosenborg Castle, which houses the Danish Crown Jewels or Christiansborg Palace. “This was the palace for Christian IV, but it burned down a couple times, so the building you see today is only around 100 years old,” said Per, but kings and queens have ruled here for centuries.